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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music
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Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music

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4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  465 ratings  ·  62 reviews
In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro T ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Faber & Faber
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Community Reviews

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Edmole
Usually with 400 page facty books you enjoy them but are happy to have got through to the end. With this, I was disappointed when I got to the last few pages. So much fascinating detail, so many fascinating stories, and hundreds of answers about the recording of sound, none of which Milner is arrogant or foolish enough to call definitive.

This starts off with the Big Bang, obviously, and how the universe spread out in waves of sound and light. Then we get a little more specific, with technical bu
...more
Emeraldia Ayakashi
« Très, très, très peu de livres changeront votre façon d’écouter la musique. Celui-ci est l’un d’eux. » Jarvis Cocker

Obviously this Jarvis's sentence terribly given me want to read this book!

Here is a book for lovers of music. More than 400 pages to revisit the history of technology that helped save the music (which seems so obvious now), and yet it only goes back to 1877.

Extremely well documented, concealing technical details (complex enough for some), but also anecdotes from the world of mu
...more
Taffnerd
This book is outstanding. The cover (and title to a lesser degree) might lead one to believe that it is a dry academic work but that couldn't be further from the truth. The mechanical and cultural impact of recorded music read like well-paced fiction.

Milner writes about the whole history of recorded sound with humor and insight. His retellings of Edison's efforts and the field recordings that john and Alan Lomax did in the 1930's illustrate the conflicts between fidelity and reality that have sh
...more
Ero
Absolutely one of the best things I've ever read about recorded audio. The chapter on Leadbelly's discovery/exploitation/celebration/creation is splendid, and the rest of the book is pretty well done too.

Occasionally this lurches a little, from almost-stale college-research-paper historical bits into magaziney "then I went to his house to hear his $5,000,000 speakers for myself" bits. But all in all it sustains a high level of intelligence and ease, and occasionally rises to truly high levels of
...more
Andrew
Probably the first accessible "general audience" book about the history of recording music, it perfectly balances the sociocultural context behind the history of different recording practices and technological advances without skimping on either front or capitulating to an elusive mainstream audience. As a recording engineer, I was surprised that even I learned new things and yet I'd still feel comfortable recommending the book to my Mom or anyone looking for a general pop-nonfiction read.
Luke
I first came to this book because of Jarvis Cocker's reading of an excerpt about how, physiologically, you perceive the drums in Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks'. It was an excerpt - edited, as I've discovered, though not greatly - that ropes physics with the excitement that particular Foot-Of-God drum phrase invokes in a way which makes even non-Zep fans a bit excited.

You can hear it here. I'll wait.

Basically, if you liked that snippet and the way it conveys SCIENCE stuff in an easy-to-
...more
Mike Lindgren
This is a well-researched and intermittently fascinating look at the history of recording technology. Music geeks will like it because they get to learn a lot of semi-technical stuff about compression and waveforms and the like. Milner is not a natural storyteller and occasionally gets himself crossed up; the book could have been substantially shorter. Audiophiles and vinyl snobs will find ammunition for defending their Luddite ways.
J.
Jul 17, 2010 J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Analogistas
Shelves: music, sound-audio
Review at Konichiwa Witches, on the "Bell" pages....
http://home.earthlink.net/~cumulo-nim...
Jeanne Thornton
Pretty neat--it's weird that I didn't think to read a book like this BEFORE spending years writing a book that largely takes place in recording studios. Excellent spooky facts about Edison, the discovery of magnetic tape, etc etc. Sometimes the writing gets kind of overly zesty for my tastes, and the chapters are organized in a really idiosyncratic way--I'm thinking here of the decision to combine the ENTIRE HISTORY OF PRODUCING SOUND USING A COMPUTER into a relatively quick chapter at the end-- ...more
Alex Orr
The chapter analyzing digital compression and the loudness wars is reason enough to recommend this to all serious music fans, though, thankfully, it is consistently entertaining and educational. I think the biggest revelation for me was just how much of a constant flux the recording, mechanical preservation, reproduction, and commercial distribution of sound was in throughout the 20th century. It's easy to think that sudden changes, such as tape over vinyl, digital, and multi-track studios were ...more
Aaron Arnold
It's easy for a 21st century music listener to forget that for the majority of human history, music appreciation has been an exclusively live, ephemeral, social affair - the serious music nerd with a vast album library, arcane tastes, and expensive headphones and speaker setup is purely an creature of the fruits of technological progress. Milner shows how the invention of sound recording technology had a transformational effect on how people interact with and appreciate music, from the early Edi ...more
Darren Hemmings
Starting with Thomas Edison's invention of the Gramophone, it traces key developments in the world of music, including the development of analogue tape, the high fidelity years, multitracking, digital, the Loudness Wars and finally the emergence of Digital Audio Workstations such as Pro Tools which instigated the widespread closure of the legedary recording studios of the world, such as the Power Station in NYC.

If you're a music fan of any kind, this book is simply a must-read: one of those work
...more
Phil Wilkins
You don't need to be a music geek or audiophile to find this book fascinating. This is a great read, with Greg Milner's writing and passion for his subject carrying you along - so much so you'd think you're being carried along by a good thriller if you didn't know better. The book although not scholarly, is rich in its factual content focuses on key points and events in the evolution in the recording of music from the early days of Edison upto the digital age.
What is fascinating is how just a fe
...more
Ray Dunsmore
A stunning, captivating narrative of one of man's most strangely poetic endeavors - the struggle to capture sound, that most ephemeral sense seeming to exist only between our ears. The book spans over 100 years from Edison's first efforts driven by perfectionism and a true showman's sense of marketing to the effective death of the recording industry as it existed in the 20th century due to the field-leveling strength of Pro Tools at the dawn of the 21st (with a glimpse of what lies ahead at the ...more
Chris Newman
A fantastic history about a subject that may have a huge impact on how we hear music from now on or it may fall on deaf ears (pun intended). This is a book about the battle for real sound or the debate between what sounds pure and what has presence versus what consumers care about which is usually convenience. I fall in the latter category since I grew up at a time when CDs were emerging and vinyl all but disappeared from store shelves. I am not an audiophile but I loved the history and debate o ...more
Anthony
A well-written and engaging history of recorded music, as gripping and hard to put down as the best thrillers with a nice fluid style. This chronicles not just the technology of recording, but the competing philosophies of what makes a "true" recording which echo down to this day. It also shows with an even-handedness the egos and passions behind all side of these arguments.

An absolute must-read for anyone interested in sound reproduction: engineers, producers, hi-fi aficionados, and anyone inte
...more
Andrew Hull
There's a quote on the back of the book that says "Very, very very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it." - Jarvis Cocker

I can't disagree with that. Many times while reading this book, I had to put it down and think about what I had just read. Very interesting perspective on the history of how music is recorded and how that can affect the music we listen to. I'd have given it 5 stars, but there were some parts that were just a shade too dry for my lik
...more
Ade
A remarkable history, analysis and amble through the technology and moreover the cultural impact of recorded sound. If you want to know why Def Leppard's Hysteria is the perfected apotheosis of the acoustic recording era, read this. If you want a cracking overview of the "Loudness Wars", it's here. If you want to discover why CD isn't quite (and wasn't intended to be) "perfect sound forever", how the Emulator and Synclavier changed music, and how Pro Tools has completely changed the time and pla ...more
Dave
This book is a must-read for 'audiophiles', but is also intensely interesting for anyone who enjoys and listens closely to music. Starting with Thomas Edison and the first recorded sounds, this book is not only an informal 'history' of recorded music, but it also poses some very interesting philosophical issues on what should constitute realistic lifelike music playback. What this means in terms of sound mixing, mastering, and producing is covered in great depth.

This book will be an absolute rev
...more
Kevin Fitzmaurice
It goes on a bit. He could have done it in half as many words and not have lost anything. Apparently AAC is better than MP3. But best of all is an old wax cylinder using pre-electric technology. There, that's the spoiler!
Kaitlin
This book took an incredibly long time for me to finish. I found the topic interesting, but the writing was a little hard to read for extended periods. I believe this was primarily due to being sort of repetitive and circular in sections.

Still, it was nice to know how the recording process has changed over the years. The book made me wish I had been around before music was compressed to within an inch of its life.

I'd probably recommend the book only to those highly interested in the subject matt
...more
Jeremy
This book is highly informative, opinionated, and as objective as a discussion of human perceptions can really be. I'd say the subject of this book is: how do we listen? how do we think we listen? are those as closely related as we think?

Spoiler: No.

I'm a pretty big audio geek, so any book that can spill info I never knew about both the history of the development of audio tape recording and the record "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" is of enormous value to me.

Highly recommended to a narrow aud
...more
Will Lashley
A very good read that traces the technological development of sound recording through a discussion of the aesthetic choices it presented to musicians and to the recording industry and mixes this perspective against the practical and economic restraints that blurred the intended effects of those choices. Greg Milner demonstrates how time and again "perfect" sound has proven to be a cultural abstraction and a commercial chimera. Get this book and read it - even if it may make you unhappy with larg ...more
Shockvalue

A bit dry at times on the chapters that I was less interested in, but overall a great read if you are into this subject matter. The author kept circling in history and I think he was trying to give us some "AHA!" moments, but it was really never THAT exciting.
Declan
Great Read.
Christian
Surprisingly thorough and readable history of recorded sound, with great technical explanations and dramatic stories - my favorite being the saga of the Lomaxes, that father/son field recording duo who discovered and exploited Leadbelly. Somebody should make a movie out of that. Also cool bits on Edison and how excessive mastering supposedly ruined RHCP's Californication and Metallica's Death Magnetic (yeah like I'm really gonna believe those albums were any good to begin with).
J. J.
There are plenty of excellent reviews of this book on Goodreads. For me, I appreciate Milner's ability to cover all the major issues and events in recording history in less than 380 pages. There are a few rabbit trails he chases (which I skimmed over), but overall, I feel that he gives fair treatment to each perspective about how records should be made, and heard. Makes me want to look into how rapidly things are changing, now four years after this book's publication.
Ed
If you are fascinated with the history of sound recording, the act of sound recording, the art of sound recording...as I apparently am...this well-written and comprehensive book will not disappoint. Not a dry, academic chronicle...rather an enjoyable walk across more than a century of technological developments, peppered with anecdotes, fortified with explanations. Does music today really sound "better"?
Ed
Fascinating history of recorded sound, with a very interesting emphasis on the development of recording formats in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. It's interesting, also, that certain themes in recording history repeat themselves regularly, notably the repeated commercial success of less sophisticated and lower quality formats over more technologically advanced and higher quality ones.
Vanessa
I thought this book was very interesting and I learned a lot from it. However, it is not for everyone. At times I found it to be quite dense and detailed. I also had minor criticisms about some of the writing (abrupt topic changes and typos were some of the bigger ones). That being said I still really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others with an interest in the topic
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“This is... an attempt to find some of the important fault lines in the narrative of "recorded history"--the points where people with access to the technology decided that *this* was how recordings should sound, and *this* is what it means to make a record. Ultimately, this is the story of what it means to make a recording of music--a *representation* of music--and declare it to be music itself.” 1 likes
“When you have two notes from two different performances Auto-Tuned, it sounds like a car horn. And then you add harmonies, and it starts to sound like baby seals honking." - Tom Lord-Alge on Auto-Tune” 1 likes
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